'The great hunger years' in Finland & Sweden

'Under the Yoke of Money' aka 'Burning the Brushwood'
by Eero Erik Nikolai Järnefelt (1863-1937)

The years 1892-93 were years of crop failure in Finland, when the grain 
harvest has failed in many places. The result was food shortage, particularly 
in poor rural areas. This meant it was even harder to work for food than in more 
normal times. Land clearing by burning the forest, was a common method of Northern 
Savo, where Järnefelt painted this work. The work has a central figure in the foreground, 
a girl with a startlingly direct and penetrating gaze, with the state of famine not forgotten 
and evidenced by the girls swollen stomach - 'pettuleipävatsa' as it was called. But
while 1892-93 were years of shortage and famine, they did not compare to
the great famine of 1866-68. This famine is known as 'the great
hunger years', or 'suuret nälkävuodet'.

Photograph of Joahanna Kokkenen by Eero Järnefelt

 Illustration of starvation in northern Sweden;
The father cuts bark of the trees for the children to eat.
Image from the newspaper 'Fäderneslandet', 1867

The famine of 1866–68 was the last great famine in Finland and 
northern Sweden, and the last major naturally caused famine in Europe.
About 15% of the entire Finnish population died; in the hardest-hit areas 
up to 20%. The total death toll was 270,000 in three years, about 150,000
 in excess of normal mortality.The famine was caused by bad weather
and poor harvests for several years. The weather returned to normal 
in 1868, and that year's harvest was somewhat better than 
average, yet, contagious diseases that had spread in the 
previous year took many additional lives

Bark of pine was used as emergency food in Finland 
during famine, last time during and after civil war in 1918.
The surface of the bark was first removed. The inner bark was then 
detached from the tree by using a special tool made of hard wood e.g. 
 juniper and called 'lusa' in Finnish. Soft sheets of inner bark were then 
available. The sheets were left to dry for a couple of hours and then 
heated over fire or coals until light brown and fragile. The bark was 
then ground and the resultant flour was used for bread with rye

One of very few preserved photos related to the emergency 
help during the famine in Sweden 1867. The image shows a group 
of performers from the town of Gävle, trying to raise money for 
starving people in the town of Orsa, 1867

Illustration of the inefficiency of emergency food aid during 
the famine in northern Sweden 1867. From left can be seen the county 
governor, the police and tax authorities and rich farmers - all of them helping 
each other to lots of the grain intended for starving people. The poor man 
to the right, who really needs help, gets a mere handful of grain.
Image from the newspaper 'Fäderneslandet', 1867  


Kerry O'Gorman said...

I never knew about this time in Swedens history. So much like the Great Famine in Ireland, the difference being that the poor were aided in starvation by rich land owners who where too greedy to help. I went to visit some of the 'Famine cottages' when I was in Ireland. It's a very haunting place. Very heavy.

von Hercynius said...

The Järnefelt painting at the top is supposedly of the "Forest Finns," a group of ethnic Finns that roamed over Scandinavia doing slash-burn agriculture; but that was long before the 19th century. I have a copy of this painting on our living room wall -- sort of as a Mahnbild to keep us humble. I think a lot of Scandis came over to us (Minnesota, Maine, Washington) during the 1860s.

Aputsiaq said...

Hi Kerry! I've actually heard a lot about the hunger years in Finland - and little about the famine in Sweden. It must have been a terrible time for all families! And you are right it is much like the famine in Ireland...and looking for images I was also reminded of the returning famine in Africa in our time and age...

Hi von Hercynius! Thank you so much for your comment and information about the Järnefelt painting. And you're right - the famine in the 1860s made many Scandinavians emigrate to the US.